The Guardian published an article recently exposing how social media sites have borrowed from gambling operators to create psychological cravings in their users. According to The Guardian, though, it is not a one-way street. Some gambling companies use social media to promote themselves in ways that anti-gambling activists say are unethical.
Social media can be an addicting, because a person cannot function properly without getting reactions from friends and family. Just like many other addictions out there, compulsive use of social media can cause impairments and other negative side effects. Though most people would deny it, a large part of the population today cannot seem to shut social media off – including underage social media users.
The Guardian asked what is leading to this obsessive need to check our phones or many other devices. Many social media platforms are now the same techniques as those used by gambling firms to create psychological dependencies. This way, they are able to ingrain their products in the lives of their users.
Mechanisms in the Brain
The methods most all social media outlets are using are so highly effective they can activate similar mechanisms in the brain as cocaine. These signals can cause psychological cravings and constant need for alerts, notifications, and updates.
The author of Addiction by Design, Natasha Schüll said, “Facebook, Twitter, and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites.”
Schull’s book addressed the issue of how slot machines along with other systems are specifically designed to lock users into an unbreakable cycle. The author said, “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”
Schüll explained that users get sucked into these “ludic loops”, such as Snapchat, Timehop streaks, or Facebook photo-scrolling. These loops can get you stuck in a constant obsession with social media’s uncertainty, feedback, and anticipation.
When a person receives feedback on social media or an email notification alerting them to this feedback, the brain releases the same kind of endorphins that addicts receive. This reinforces the habit by manipulation the pleasure center of the brain.
Natasha Schull said, “If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in. We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game — it affects us financially, physically, and emotionally.”
Enticing Rewards on Slots Row
Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google, has analyzed the simple act of hitting spin on slot machines and what makes it so addicting. The simple act of pulling down to refresh your page is a similar act to hitting “Spin” on a slot machine. Though you may not think twice about doing it, that minor detail was put there purposely and with full intention to keep you pulling down over and over again.
Positive feedback helps keep players on the line. For instance, a player betting $2.50 on a spin and winning $0.60 has lost $1.90, but the slot machine buzzes and lights up like the player is a big winner.
Tristan Harris said, “You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing.”
Comparisons between Social Media and Slots
Anticipation of a positive result drives slot machine use, just as it drives social media addiction. The majority of the time nothing life-changing comes out of refreshing the page, more often than not we get nothing out of it. But the thought and hope for that occasional exciting news or reward, we just keep coming back.
Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit said, “The rewards are what psychologists refer to as ‘variable reinforcement schedules’ and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens.”
Dr. Griffiths added, “Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions…to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”
Related to Depression and Anxiety
People might scoff at the idea social media sites cause deleterious effects on people, but it is a serious issue. Research shows that high rates of social media usage is tied to depression, anxiety, and addictions that are frequently overlooked by most. In mainstream society, the dangers are completely underestimated.
These addictions can even invoke “phantom calls and notifications”, causing users to sense the buzz or ring of a device when it may not even be there. Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behavior from the University of Michigan, discusses these phantom calls and how they can get us feeling nonexistent things.
Professor Kruger said, “Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals. These social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine [does] and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.”
The researcher added, “There are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and, by bombarding you with messages and stimuli, try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.”
Though the age for cell phones seems to be getting younger and younger as time goes on, many parents say they don’t allow internet or social media for their children. However, the number of monthly active users of Facebook hit 2.13 billion earlier this year. That is a 14% increase from last year. Facebook has become a part of our lives and we can’t seem to separate ourselves from it.
Free-to-Play Slots for Kids
While social media companies depend on gambling tactics for their livelihood, nowadays, most gambling sites use social media as a marketing tool to bring in new customers. Access to a wide variety of people is virtually limitless with today’s social media. So naturally, social media’s advertising advantages are a no-brainer. Between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, companies can access millions of people with an easy click of a button.
Many places use Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with their already established customers, much like land-based casinos maintain a mail list using snail mail or email. Because of the interactive nature of social media pages, these interactions help to keep poker sites, sportsbooks, and casinos gaming options tailored to their customers’ wants and needs.
Facebook Casino Games
Though the majority of advertising through social media is purely an attempt to get more business, some sites, mainly found through Facebook, have caused particular issues. Easy-to-access games on social media sites provided by gaming sites have seen a lot of negative feedback, because they use cartoon characters that might appeal to underage players. The open availability of free-to-play casino games to all ages has caused several issues with youth and gambling addiction.
Though attempts have been made towards better regulating gaming sites’ ads and the games they offer through social media, much room for improvement still exists.